Through the University of California's Native American Opportunity Plan, California residents who are also members of a federally recognized tribe will receive free tuition to any of the University of California's nine colleges.
Young Native American woman in rural business district

The University of California announced that it would start waiving tuition and fees for Native American students who are both California residents and members of a federally recognized tribe. This is life-changing news for our family. It means that my sons, who are Native American, will be able to attend an in-state college for free. Let me say it again, my children can attend college without accruing the crippling educational debt that me, my husband, and every generation of young adults since have accrued.

The initiative is part of University of California's Native American Opportunity Plan which is designed to expand campus-wide diversity and make college "more affordable and accessible" for Native American students, system president Dr. Michael V. Drake wrote in a letter to UC chancellors.

Currently, there are 109 federally recognized tribes in California. And while the initiative does not include California's 50 plus unrecognized tribes, there is hope that future subsidies and scholarships will be available to those students in coming years.

Native students will be able to choose from nine University of California schools including: UC Berkley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz. It is no surprise that the majority of the land that these colleges occupy are lands that once belonged to California's native peoples. For instance, the Gabrielino and Tongva people of the Los Angeles Basin once inhabited the land around UCLA. And, UC San Diego sits on land that was once occupied by the Kumeyaay people of the Southern and Baja regions of California.

I am an enrolled member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in San Juan, New Mexico. We are one of the eight northern Tewa speaking Pueblos. Currently, I am in the process of enrolling my children as members of our tribe, but I had planned to enroll them long before the announcement of the tuition grant, because it's an important part of their lineage and a tangible representation of our culture.

It's an involved process that includes submitting copies of birth certificates, social security cards, proof of my and my father's enrollments in the tribe, as well as a detailed family tree so that roots can be traced back generations. After all the paperwork is notarized and submitted, we will then need to stand before the tribal council to formally introduce ourselves. We must also enlist the help of a sponsor from the tribe who will vouch for us in front of the council. While each tribe has their own requirements, this is ours.

Being a Native American is hard to grasp when all you see is the stereotypical picture of Indians from old Westerns or those in faded history books. I tell my kids all they have to do is look into a mirror, or at their grandfather, or into my eyes and they'll see one. Native Americans look just like anyone else.

The future is a little brighter for my sons and other Native American students who are dreaming of a college education. Education should be accessible to all and this is a step in the right direction.